St. Ann's: Poster child of the effects of sprawl

Nothing illustrates better the effects of Buffalo's suburban sprawl than these two aerial images of the now threatened St. Ann's Church & Shrine at Broadway and Emslie streets.  In one image, dating to the early 1950's, a dense, compact neighborhood surrounds the church. Stores, homes, and factories exist cheek-by-jowl. Everything is within walking distance from where folks live: retail, school, work, worship. It's an image of an economically vibrant, sustainable neighborhood.

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The next image, taken recently by photographer James Cavanaugh, is the same perspective. A Broadway/Emslie neighborhood is robbed of people, commerce, and hope. The I-190 and Kensington expressways were built a half century ago to solve the "congestion" problem on Broadway and other radials leading from downtown. As the present-day image illustrates, this strategy succeeded. Along with the traffic congestion, the congestion of money, congestion of commerce, and congestion of people were also "solved."

photo credit: Copyright 2013 James Cavanaugh / www.cavphoto.com

The Diocese of Buffalo is now facing the familiar challenges of sprawl without growth, its worship halls, schools, and other facilities serving a dwindling and dispersed regional population. The realities of  sprawl should not require the destruction of one the city's great works of architecture—the church and shrine devoted to St. Ann, built by the hands of our immigrant grandfathers from 1878 to 1886—but sprawl makes the insane, sane.

Will Buffalo let sprawl win? Or will the Broadway/Emslie neighborhood be allowed to keep at least one symbol of hope that is left?

Paul McDonnell, Chair of the City's Preservation Board and President of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo has completed the landmark nomination application.  There's a public hearing this Thursday: September 19th at 3pm in room 901 City Hall where the public will have the opportunity to show their support for landmarking St. Ann's.

To help keep StAnn's Church and Shrine standing, please consider joining the Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture, & Culture.

See:  additional images of St. Ann's here and from this fixBuffalo tour of the tower in 2007.  


John Straubinger said...

My father grew up at 95 Herman St in a house that my grandfather built. I was over by St. Ann's and Herman St in August and was startled to see that my grandfather's house was one of the few remaining houses.

Jibreel Riley said...

This is what our grandparents wanted, a new Buffalo now being built in Lancaster.

Anonymous said...

Most of the homes in this area were built before 1900...Just how long do you expect them to last?.....Since most of them were cheeply built without basements and even front porches...Now this areas is dangerous,so who would want to live there?

yabadabadoo said...

I'll take what preservationists say about the east side a bit more seriously when they start moving there. Or moving back as the case may be if their parents or grandparents moved out.

Raymond Ban said...

Yabadabadoo, the author does live on the East Side.

John Henry Schlegel said...

The demolition of St Ann's would be quite serious loss to our community. It is a beautiful church and the destruction of any thing of beauty is a great loss. That said, the second picture is excellent evidence that the neighborhood was not sustainable. Why that turned out to be the case is a quite complex set of physical and social problems. However, sprawl is a consequence but not a cause of the deterioration of this neighborhood

yabadabadoo said...

@ RayBan: That must make for an entire colony of 'em. Curious that they haven't contributed to making St. Ann's a vibrant parish over the past decade.

beezneez said...

@JH Schleger: So the German parishioners left that neighborhood because of "physical and social problems." And these problems were complex. The fact remains that the German Americans left. And they left for the suburbs. So sprawl is a consequence . . . What is it you are trying to say?

Buffalo Resurrection said...

Though, I respect all of your opinions in terms of renovation, urban sprawl and preservation, I suspect that you may be optimistic on this one as I have been, so please don’t take this as being antagonistic.

“The engineering study found that over the years, major capital projects at St. Ann’s were scaled back and preventative maintenance was postponed, resulting in an increased rate of deterioration.

Despite much of the stonework being in fairly good condition, the high gutter has numerous leaks resulting in water intrusion into the exterior masonry walls, causing damage to interior walls and windows, and rusting nails which attach lath and plaster to stone walls. The cupola between the two transepts needs refurbishing or complete removal before a dangerous condition occurs.

There is a rotted wooden roof in the clock room of the East Tower, and finials have shifted outward resulting in cracks in each of the arches. Walkway railings have become unattached due to shifting stone and extensive cracking in four corner buttresses.
On the West Tower, problems are general and widespread and the extremely poor condition presents a hazard to the area surrounding the church. Most of the top 80 feet is beyond repair. Bonding of the exterior face stone on the tower walls has failed with approximately 200 square feet of the south wall of the tower having separated from the rubble infill. An attempt to discover the condition of the infill beyond this section of the wall was deemed too dangerous because the infill has disintegrated into very damp soft sand and stone powder due to water infiltration. Corner buttresses are badly cracked and there is real possibility that large portions of face stone and corner buttresses could fall onto the lower roof, shattering enough of the wood roof to allow stones to fall into the interior seating area.

Excessive water intrusion to the Belfry on the West Tower has badly rotted the wood in many areas; wood and louvers are badly deteriorated and surrounding masonry is badly cracked and displaced; exterior corners exhibit active movement of facing stone and completely ineffective mortar joints.”

This statement is a tragedy: if a re-pointing project had been allowed to commence on a rotating schedule and gutters were replaced as needed. The freeze-thaw cycle that has eroded the stone face of this building would have never occurred or would have been minor (relatively speaking).

As it is, because of deferred maintenance, this building is in a precarious state and I would agree, possibly dangerous and I would not recommend standing anywhere near during an extremely windy day.

I am all about preservation but the cost has made preservation prohibitive and, I blame the Diocese but I am sure the Bishop won’t be losing any sleep over my opinion.

Okefenokee said...

So how does the Bishop (and his predecesors) have control over where predominantly German parishioners chose/choose to live and which parish to attend and support?

Buffalo Resurrection said...


Nothing; this area is in the spot light because St Ann's will probably become victim to the wrecking ball or implosion.

Sadly, after reading the structural analysis of the building, I agree with the demolition, unless you have access to 8-million for restoration.

Raymond Ban said...

Guys, sprawl didn't just "happen." It was planned. The goal of planners and traffic engineers in the 1950s and 1960s was to drastically reduce population density and fling population across the rural areas outside the City, spurring a job bonanza in housing construction and automobile sales. Suburbanization was a national program backed by the entire country's land use, transportation, and financial policies. The second image, taken in 2013, would be considered a "job well done" by these traffic engineers and planners, who if alive today would feel disappointed that were not as successful in achieving the same result in Allentown, Elmwood Village, and the like. Broadway/Emslie today is the successful result of public policy and investment.

Anonymous said...

I just saw an old episode of Route 66 on television tonight. It was filmed in and around the Central Terminal as well as the Buffalo Airport. Inside the terminal, it showed it's elegance just the way it used to be giving me a hard jab of nostalgia. In the parking lot scenes above the dense roof tops stood the majestic spires of St. Ann's as if they were standing guard over the region.